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What an Engineering Manager Should Be Aware of in a SaaS-Based B2B Company

Product
Internal Communication
Collaboration
Team Processes
Cross-Functional Collaboration

4 January, 2022

Manu Gurudatha
Manu Gurudatha

Senior Director, Software Engineering at PagerDuty

Manu Gurudatha, Senior Director, Software Engineering at PagerDuty, discusses how he rallied the teams to pivot their product development in a different direction at the right time successfully.

Change, though hard, is essential to survive

Back in one of my previous B2B SaaS companies, I was leading a relatively new product, and unfortunately, the product was not growing in line with the company’s expectations. Normally, at the early stages, we want the product to grow fast and steadily so that we know what's working, and what's not. It's the whole notion of agility within the company 一 not Agile as a development methodology but more as an adjective, where the company needs to change directions to see where customers are, their pain points, and how those could be solved by us.

At this phase, a new product executive came in, and they mentioned that we were looking at the wrong product area, and we needed to pivot. This required some immediate changes to be done by both Product and Engineering orgs. Now that we knew the right direction from a business standpoint, we had to turn around the whole ship, and that had a lot of implications on the engineering team - starting from how we approached the team structure and charters, to how we designed and developed our product for the new opportunity. It was a dramatic change, and undoubtedly, it brought discomfort to some people.

Pivot!

Navigating such discomfort across my team required educating them on the potential business impact, and how crucial it is for the success of the product, and thereby our teams. It meant that everyone had to realign to identify what needed to be done and let go of some of the work done previously.

We redefined how we collaborated and communicated, and threw away some of the processes in order to realign for this change of priority. We had to get in touch with the General Manager on a daily basis to constantly prioritize and stay course for our new deliverables. Given that we had a short amount of time to turn this around by the end of the fiscal year, we had to make several short-term optimizations such as sequencing the product development work differently, or customer onboarding steps to align with the final fiscal quarter.

Fast forward to Q1 of the following year, now that we had built trust internally on our ability to pivot and execute quickly, it was then my turn to let the Product team know that the team needed some decompression time. Starting to adjust to the new way of working was a lot of changes for the teams to handle, and the executive leadership were very supportive.

This give-and-take relationship between Product and Engineering was essential because the overarching thing here was to build trust with each other. Once I established this mode of working, we could then focus on solving the external problems together in a consistent manner.

Business acumen and adaptability are the keys to successful outcomes

  • Always start with the business or the customer problem, and then apply technology and processes to solve it. Not the other way around. Align the teams accordingly, which will set them up for success by giving them clear goals and success criteria to achieve.
  • In a world where change is a constant thing, being flexible and adaptable to changes and building strong relationships with internal stakeholders will open up new opportunities for growth and success for everybody.
  • Be scrappy: Especially with new product introductions, be decisive and quick to establish a feedback loop with customers, and grow from there.

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